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  • Writer's pictureMichelle Weir (Local Democracy Reporter)

Sacrifice recognised by “too few” - ANBCouncil backs motion for prison officer commemoration

HM Prison Maghaberry with photo inset of DUP Cllr Alison Bennington.

Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council has backed a motion for a commemoration in recognition of the “immense sacrifice” of prison officers.

A motion put forward by Threemilewater DUP Councillor Sam Flanagan and seconded by party colleague Glengormley Cllr Alison Bennington was approved at a council meeting on Monday evening (27th March).

It was supported by 33 councillors in favour, including the SDLP, with three Sinn Fein councillors voting against.

The motion said: “This council recognises the immense sacrifice of those prison officers who served in Northern Ireland through its most difficult times, and indeed who continue until the present day to serve this community with great bravery; further, that an appropriate commemoration be installed in the borough, an event be held to celebrate officers within the borough and a legacy project be commenced to honour their contribution to our society.”

Speaking at the meeting, Cllr Flanagan said: “It is intended to acknowledge a group of individuals in the borough who have given so much to our community. They have contributed to peace and stability in Northern Ireland. Those objectives are to be admired.”

Cllr Flanagan paid tribute to the 32 prison officers who lost their lives, saying that “too few” recognise their great sacrifice.

He also acknowledged the murder of David Black while he was driving to work in 2012 and off-duty prison officer Adrian Ismay in 2016.

He stated some officers have turned to “detrimental coping mechanisms”, many have been “tormented by criminals” and some forced to move to “safe houses” and check vehicles for explosives.

He said prison officers do a job for which they should be “supported and admired”.

Seconding the motion, Cllr Alison Bennington gave an emotional account of how her father John Carson Bennington had been shot when he went to collect her mum from work in January 1977.

She told the meeting her father had served as a prison officer at Crumlin Road Prison following a Naval career.  After the shooting, she said: “He was not my dad any more.”

“He suffered for 21 years with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) hiding when a knock came to the door and watching every move he made because he was shot for being a prison officer, for protecting the public.”

Macedon Ulster Unionist Cllr Robert Foster said that prison officers “deal with some heinous criminals” and their families “live under fear of attack, not just from one side but from many sides”.

Glengormley Sinn Fein Cllr Michael Goodman stated that his party would not be supporting the motion.

“It was a very emotive presentation and we recognise the pain and hurt expressed.”  However, he added it does not reflect the “totality and history of this place”.

He went on to say the prison system over many years has been a place of “torture and hell” for many people who were held there.

Glengormley Ulster Unionist councillor Alderman Mark Cosgrove said prison officers are “under threat from all sides”.

“There is a not a civilised country that does not have a prison service. I fully support the motion. Above all, the prison officers deserve this recognition,” he added.

“The mental health issues that continue to affect people who served in the prison service during that period is another reason why they deserve to be recognised.”

Commenting after the motion was carried, Cllr Bennington said:

“Cllr Goodman was eating his dinner during a discussion on a very sensitive subject. I know people have to get their dinner but maybe they could have eaten before or after.”


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